Three churches in Texas have sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency over its strategy of not giving aid to religious organizations following the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey a week ago.
After the costliest and most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, the government should go to the aid of all, not leave imperative parts of the community underwater. Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God are all arguing that ought to have disaster relief aid, just like other nonprofits, including museums and zoos.
FEMA’s policy blocks churches and other places of worship from receiving aid, due to the partition of church and state. The strategy has been addressed amid various other natural disasters before, for example, when Superstorm Sandy attacked New York in 2012.
Becket, which documented a claim in Houston government court against FEMA in the interest of the places of worship, contended that FEMA’s policy disregards the Constitution.
In fact, just as it did after Hurricanes Rita and Ike, FEMA and local government agencies are currently using Hi-Way Tabernacle to protect dozens of evacuees, distribute meals, and provide medical care. Yet Hi-Way is not eligible for relief for the three-foot flood it suffered in its sanctuary, simply because it primarily uses its building for religious purposes.
Churches are playing a vital role in helping Texas recover from Harvey, and deserve to receive assistance from FEMA.
During the Sandy-FEMA debate in 2013, some, such as The New York Times’ editorial board, spoke out against proposed amendments to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act intended at making churches eligible for disaster relief.
Pastor Paul de Vries, president of New York Divinity School, added:
The church buildings suffering the same damage are still ‘disqualified’ from these grants because churches lead people to God. Ironically, it was the God-centered churches who were the first to help others immediately after Superstorm Sandy — with generous physical, emotional and spiritual help many days or weeks before aid from any other sources, government or private